Monday, 27 July 2015

The Voices - A Review

When I saw that Ryan Reynolds was playing a schizophrenic character in Marjane Satrapi's latest film (she was the genius director behind Persepolis by the way) I figured it was his warm up for playing Deadpool later this year.

However, what surprised me about this film was the very fair representation of mental illness, perfectly encapsulated within Reynold's acting. The audience is with the slightly naive, good-hearted Gerry (Reynolds) throughout, despite the exponential rate in which his illness leads to dangerous situations. To have an unhinged character at the heart of the film who also retains the audience's sympathy is an incredibly difficult task to pull off and the fact it was so well done is a credit to both the cast and crew.

The set design was also an absolute joy (I say this being a huge lover of all film production design aspects). During the scenes where Gerry has lost his grip on reality, the colours are vivid and his small apartment above a bowling alley looks like a 70s style, wood panelled, brightly coloured home where everything is neurotically neat and ordered. However, in the scenes where Gerry sobers, the audience (along with Gerry) discover that his apartment is a dark, dank hole with animal excrement everywhere, blood stains littered about the place and piles and piles of hoarded pizza boxes that go from floor to ceiling.

The dichotomy between the two worlds works so wonderfully well. Although a lot of the time, we see the world through Gerry's eyes, with its the brightly lit sets and light colour palette, nothing ever feels unbelievable even the pink overalls that Milton's employees all wear.

The performances from Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton's were excellent and the two played well off of each other but it really is Ryan Reynolds as the main character, Gerry that makes this film. He is childlike, someone who views everyday activities and mundane work events as exciting, new experiences. He is cheerful at work, often dancing or listening to music and everyone seems to like him, despite his quirks. He doesn't function like everyone else, viewing things in a slightly off-kilter way and not understanding social airs ands graces. This naivety and innocence makes him extremely likeable but you can see that various cracks show through, his inability to stop his hallucinations for example.

Oh, there are spoilers ahead...

Without his medication, Gerry feels worse, he has the sense he is losing awe-inspiring moments of genius where the world makes perfect sense and he fully understands the world and everything in it. He genuinely believes he is better without it and is convinced by his cat to rid himself of them. Incidentally, yes you read that correctly. His cat talks to him, as does his dog (both also voice acted hilariously by Reynolds) but as you will have realised by now, they are figments of his imagination because Gerry has full aural and visual hallucinations, viewing his dog (Bosco) as the voice of a reason, morality and goodness and the cat (Mr. Whiskers) as a cruel, vindictive and bad.

It's the typical angel and devil on the shoulder story however it is executed with more finesse. My reasoning for this is that, not only are they two polar opposites that tug and pull at Gerry throughout the film but more than that, the cat side always wins no matter Gerry's intention to agree with the Bosco and make the choice to do good. Ultimately, this suggests that that darker side is part of Gerry's nature and is not something he can ignore or shut out.

Of course, his delusions get the better of him and the incidents that follow are at times reminiscent of Dale and Tucker Vs Evil, with hilarious misunderstandings and accidental deaths, though The Voices, is much darker and delves into more complex territory.

During a flashback to his childhood, we discover that he was bullied for being part-German by kids a school and also by his dad who also attacked him and his mother, hurling verbal abuse at them for being crazy and disappointing him. This is because Gerry's mother also heard voices, for openly talking about her "angels' as she referred to them, she was placed in a mental facility.

Once released, she vowed she would never speak again of her voices and made Gerry promise never to tell anyone about his. During this scene, sirens are heard from outside and we realise that they are coming for Gerry's mother and so she begs her son to cut her throat so she doesn't have to be locked up again. It's utterly heartbreaking and the image of young Gerry, covered in blood made me incredibly sad. The audience begin to realise that Gerry has suffered immense trauma in his life and though shocked, the audience still sympathises with him.

This emotional scene is intense and it shows the helplessness that many people who suffer from mental illness feel, the lack of support available to them and it highlights the tragic Catch-22 (excellent book by the way) nature of mental disorders; without asking for help or having a lack of support from people around you, you are alone yet if you do speak up, you can be persecuted because other people don't understand, as like everything, people intrinsically fear what they don't understand. Doctors are quick to put you on drugs and prescribe all kinds of mind-numbing medication.

Gerry's end, though expected, was the only way the film could have ended. His actions (despite his slightly deluded good intentions) were so horrific that there needed to be closure in the form of redemption or consequence. Although, Satrapi knows how to do end credits because they were hilarious, so what was a sad, grizzly end for our main protagonist is undercut with fun, humour and lightheartedness, the same fun that all of Gerry's hallucinations possessed and which endeared him to the audience throughout.

Overall, this film seems to understand many of the nuances of mental illness and doesn't glamourise it or use it as a plot device, rather, The Voices is an incredibly dark comedy that leaves you feeling simultaneously sad and happy for Gerry.

Maybe I'm projecting too much into this because I suffer from stress and anxiety. I hope it serves as a way of understanding certain mental illnesses and promotes acceptance. It certainly made me feel better anyway.

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